A beach break this summer is a tantalising prospect indeed – but don’t you think it’s time for something a bit more adventurous? To use your new-found freedom (for however long it lasts) to get lost in new cities, taste unfamiliar flavours, and follow uncharted trails to… who knows where?
With the relaxation of travel rules for amber list destinations, it’s time to seize the (holi)day and embrace the unknown again. The following destinations don’t require fully jabbed Britons to quarantine on arrival – and nor, of course, will you have to isolate on your return.
And while the Foreign Office still advises against visiting some amber places (rendering travel insurance tricky), all of the following are currently exempt from its Covid cautions. Throw in direct flights (in most cases) and flexible booking policies, and you’ve got every box ticked. Now, where will your wanderlust take you?
From hectic medinas to the soul-stirring solitude of the Sahara, Morocco’s contradictions are manifold – and magnificent. On Encounters Travel’s 9-day Moroccan Melodies tour, you’ll travel from Casablanca to Marrakech, exploring the architectural riches of Rabat, haggling for treasures in Fez medina, and getting thoroughly lost in Ouarzazate’s sprawling Taourirt Kasbah. By contrast, the wild splendour of the Sahara Desert shows there’s still joy to be found in isolation, while the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains reveal Morocco’s endless generosity of spirit.
Departs: August 14, September 11, October 19, November 6, December 4. From £1,179pp, excl flights.
Away from Jamaica’s famous resorts and cruise terminals, the island reveals its true colours: the endless greens of its national parkland, the gemstone blues of its Rio Grande, the pearl-white (and tourist-free) sands of its lesser-known beaches. Explore Jamaica, an 11-night holiday with adventure specialist Explore Travel, takes you far from the beaten track – for river rafting, wild swimming, forest hikes and lobster suppers under the stars. You’ll also visit an indigenous Rastafari village, and learn how to cook jerk chicken with a local chef.
Departs: October 11, November 22, and various dates in 2022. From £1,999, excl flights.
While the crowds flock to Spain’s south, in-the-know gourmands head north – in search of the revered restaurants of San Sebastian, the tapas bars of Logrono, and Oviedo’s Asturian sidreria (cider houses). Intrepid’s 10-day Northern Spain Real Food Adventure offers all of that, and much more. You’ll eat fresh Galician mussels straight from the sea in A Coruña, taste your way through the stalls of Barcelona’s Santa Caterina Market, learn from local experts with cooking demonstrations and classes, and dine on traditional Cantabrian specialities in Picos de Europa national park.
Departs: August 31, October 12, and various dates in 2022. From £1,866pp, excl flights.
One of the lesser-visited locations on the amber list, North Macedonia favours the intrepid. This is a land of snow-capped mountains and wildlife-rich forests; of tranquil lakeside monasteries and ornately painted mosques. KE Adventure’s 8-day Tastes and Trails of Macedonia holiday reveals its underrated charms, including a walking tour of Lake Ohrid (a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest lakes), a boat ride through Matka Canyon, a trip to the spectacular Saint Jovan Bigorski monastery, and even a home-cooked dinner with a local family. You’ll really get under the skin of this fascinating nation.
Departs: September 4. From £845, excl flights.
After the mundanities of lockdown, Wild Frontiers’ Walking in Northern Albania tour features landscapes almost too big, too dramatic to comprehend. The ‘Accursed Mountains’ – also known as the Albanian Alps – are one of Europe’s last great wildernesses, where rivers tumble from herculean peaks to low, lushly-forested valleys. It’s catnip for hikers, and this eight-day expedition features guided rambles to near-forgotten villages, through wildflower meadows, and up cloud-grazing peaks – including a horse-supported trek along the 1,800m-high Valbonë Pass. Breathtaking, in more ways than one.
Departs: August 27, September 10, and various dates in 2022. From £925pp (excl flights).
Another amber list outlier, Azerbaijan gives Iceland a run for its money in the natural wow-factor stakes – with mud-bubbling volcanoes, the world’s biggest inland sea, and the constant flame of Fire Mountain (Yanar Dag) fed by huge underground gas deposits. Culturally speaking, it’s a curious mix of Asian and European influence, and a hot mess of architectural styles: ranging from Medieval monasteries to Soviet brutalism, and Baku’s bonkers Dubai-style skyscrapers. Responsible Travel’s 8-day Azerbaijan Holiday is an action-packed primer on this curious country, with a focus on local encounters, food and crafts.
Departs: August 19, September 3 & 23, and various dates in 2022. From £1,595pp, excl flights.
There is no finer introduction to Portugal’s history and architecture than its pousadas – heritage hotels – which occupy old palaces, mansions, and addresses of note, ranging from low-key to lavish. On a 10-day Grand Designs of Portugal trip with Titan Travel, you’ll overnight in a 16th-century convent in Vila Viçosa, a 200-year-old hospital turned decadent hotel in Viseu, and a palatial hilltop retreat in Viana do Castelo. The Lisbon-Porto itinerary also promises a sensory awakenings aplenty: from the pine-sweet scents of the Serra da Estrela mountains, to majestic Moorish sights in Arraiolos and wine tasting in Porto.
Departs: May, June, September and October 2022. From £1,479pp, incl flights.
Wildlife Worldwide’s 11-night Sperm Whales & Bottlenose Dolphins trip is more than a holiday: it’s a chance to join researchers and scientists in one of the world’s greatest whale-watching destinations. Assisting a conservation project, you’ll contribute to a bottlenose dolphin and sperm whale survey – identifying the groups, making acoustic recordings, and pin-pointing locations – as well as rescuing and tagging loggerhead turtles, which are susceptible to entanglement in fishing nets and lines. When not on the research boat, there’s also the opportunity to dive with blue sharks on their summer migration.
Departs: September 11, various dates in 2022, plus tailormade private departures on request. From £1,525pp, incl flights.
British Virgin Islands
Perhaps you’ve become a lockdown devotee of wild swimming – or maybe you’re looking for a new fitness challenge, something to aim for after the inertia of lockdown. Either way, Swimtrek’s 7-day British Virgin Islands trip reveals the Caribbean as you’ve never seen it before, with invigorating coastal swims and accommodation in a swish beachside resort. There are guided dips every day, including the opportunity to swim from ‘Britain’ to ‘America’: a 3km open-water jaunt between two island territories.
Departs: October 30. From £2,850pp, excl flights.
The BodyHoliday resort is best-known for its restorative, active approach to all-inclusive Caribbean luxury – a place where health and wellbeing comes first, though not at the expense of indulgence. A ‘fly-and-flop’ this is not: days are filled with everything from archery to scuba diving; Ayurvedic massages to Reiki treatments. And on its new Olympic-themed holidays, you’ll have the opportunity to train with some of the world’s foremost athletes. Sprint champion Colin Jackson, swimmer Jazz Carlin, and diver Leon Taylor are among those leading training sessions – for all abilities and fitness levels.
Departs: Various dates until December 17. From $320 per person per night, excl flights.